Morrison government accused of using Novak Djokovic to 'distract' from COVID-19 issues

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has accused the government of using Djokovic to distract from "empty shelves & the national shortage of boosters & [rapid antigen tests]” in Australia.

Novak Djokovic during a training session at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Wednesday, January 12, 2022.

Novak Djokovic during a training session at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Source: AAP

There’s been no shortage of reaction to the news Novak Djokovic's visa has been cancelled for a second time, just days ahead of the Australian Open.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke that he had used his ministerial powers to personally cancel Djokovic's visa on "health and good order grounds".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded in a statement shortly afterward, saying: “I note the Minister for Immigration's decision in relation to Mr Novak Djokovic's visa.

"I understand that following careful consideration, action has been taken by the Minister to cancel Mr Djokovic's visa held on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.

"This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods."

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd accused the government of using Djokovic to distract from the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia.

“What a surprise! Morrison's govt cancels Djokovic's visa to win the weekend media cycle - showing us all how hairy chested he is. Why on earth did they issue the visa in the first place?” he wrote on Twitter.

“One big political distraction from empty shelves & the national shortage of boosters & [rapid antigen tests].”

Current Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the saga had been “a great embarrassment for Australia”.

“The rules are clear that you need to be double vaccinated in order to enter Australia, and we still don't have an explanation for how it is that the Australian government under Scott Morrison issued the visa in the first place,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“The right decision was to stop the visa being issued in the first place.“

Serbian President Aleksander Vucic again accused the government of harassing the tennis star.

"If you wanted to ban Djokovic from winning the trophy for the 10th time, why didn't you return him immediately, why didn't you tell him it was impossible to get a visa? Why are you harassing him?" he said, according to local media.

The International Tennis Federation said in a statement while it respected the government’s decision, the saga has been “disappointing for everyone involved”.

"Protocols need to be clearly communicated in a timely manner and the proper process must be respected by all for it to be effective,” it said.

"And while the ITF believes that full vaccination is a personal decision, we believe this is the responsible action we must all take in order to ease restrictions and avoid such occurrences happening in the future."

Spanish great Rafael Nadal said the "whole situation has taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors", but that the Australian Open will be great with or without Djokovic. 

"It feels like it's taking away from us competitors who just want to start," he said on Saturday at Melbourne Park. 

"I'm just ready to put all of this behind me and focus on playing my tennis matches ... we all just want to get on with our own stuff."

Nadal said despite reigning champion Djokovic's domination in Australia, no single player was bigger than a grand slam.

"Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he's playing finally, OK. If he's not playing, Australian Open will be great Australian Open with or without him."

Australian veteran Sam Stosur, playing in her last Open, said she hoped the Dojokovic saga didn't "tarnish" this year's tournament.

"We want the Aussie Open to be for good things, not unfortunately what the Novak situation has become," she said.

Greek men's fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, an outspoken critic of Djokovic, tried to turn attention back to the game.

"It has been pretty much on every news outlet the last couple of weeks. It has received a lot of attention," said Tsitsipas, who was runner-up to Djokovic at last year's French Open.

"That's why I'm here to talk about tennis ... not enough tennis has been talked about in the last couple of weeks, which is a shame."

Three-time men’s Grand Slam champion Andy Murray said it was “unfortunate that it's ended up in this sort of situation”.

“Just want it to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it's dragged on for quite a long time now, and yeah, not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak," he said. 

Former Serbian tennis player Janko Tipsarevic took to Twitter and said the whole process had been “toxic”. 

"Shame on each and everyone involved in this process," he wrote.

After Djokovic’s visa was cancelled the first time, he was taken to the Park Hotel in Carlton, an immigration facility where dozens of asylum seekers are housed.

Some of the men at the facility have been in Australia's immigration system for nearly a decade and have not been allowed to leave detention centres during legal battles.

A fire has broken out at the facility in recent weeks and detainees .  It's also been the site of a COVID-19 outbreak, where half of the detainees and around 20 staff became infected.

Elaine Pearson, Australia’s director at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter cancelling Djokovic's visa “again exposes the Kafkaesque nature of Australia's immigration regime”.

“Minister claims it is in the 'public interest' when it conveniently serves a political purpose. Meanwhile 32 refugees & asylum seekers remain detained in Park Hotel,” she wrote.

With Reuters / AAP

6 min read
Published 15 January 2022 at 6:56am
Source: SBS